This is financial advice, believe it or not.
Do you want to make more money? Get promoted? Get a better job? Get more clients? Do you simply want less drama in your life, and happier friendships?
If you are like most people I know under age 40 or so, one of the best things you can do to achieve your financial goals and to live a less stressful life is like other people more than you currently do. Why? Because other people can read your mind by reading your body language. In a previous post I pointed out that we are better at understanding other people’s body language than we are at understanding our own. As a result, other people probably already know how you feel about them and what you believe about them. And some of those people will decide whether you get that job, get that promotion, or get that client. They will also determine whether your circle of friends supports you, or whether your social group merely forms a toxic gossip circle.
So if you want to change your life, you may need to change how you feel about others. The previous post ended with the question, “How do I do that?”
Before answering that question, let’s clear up one or two things. First, if you don’t like the people you are associated with, maybe the best thing to do is leave. If you want to leave, that’s a good enough reason to leave. Second, this is not marriage counseling advice. Yes, many of the concepts I use are borrowed from marriage counseling. That’s true. But I am no expert in that field, and here I am really talking about dealing with friends, co-workers, clients, and even complete strangers.
With all that said, here we go. Here are four things you can do to like other people more.
Number One: Empathetic “You” Statements
Empathetic “you” statements are ridiculously simple, incredibly powerful, and surprisingly hard to implement. Basically, when making these kinds of statements you either just repeat what the person said, or you say how you think they feel.
So for instance, if someone tells you, “I have been having a really hard time in school right now,” resist the urge to talk about your own school experience. Instead, just say something like, “You are getting stressed out at school right now, huh?”
What will happen is that the person will either agree with your statement and go into more depth, showing you more of who they really are. Or, they may disagree, but that’s fine because people love being right. And they will then explain what is happening more clearly.
The point of empathetic “you” statements is that they help to put you in the other person’s shoes, even if you are getting things wrong! And as you keep using them, you will get to know the person better and better, and you will get things wrong less and less often. As you keep identifying with the other person, you may find that you start to like them better and better. Finally, as your interactions grow, you can use more and more complex “you” statements.
A side effect of empathetic “you” statements is that other people will like you better, too, especially people you don’t know well or that you have only just met. I use these kinds of statements all the time with employees who seem to be having a rough day, especially if those employees can do something for me. “You are working really hard.” Or, “You seem to be having a rough time.” Or, “You seem calm on the surface, but…” As the conversation progresses, I force myself to not use the word “I”. I force myself to avoid trying to “identify” with the other person. (And I NEVER say any version of, “I know how you feel.”) Instead, I just keep responding to what they say with further “you” statements, letting the other person open up. These kinds of statements make the other person feel like I am actually paying attention to them, instead of being yet another asshole who is yelling at them or ignoring them.
And of course, the reason they feel like I am paying attention to them is because…I am paying attention!
This method will feel very, very weird at first. Most of us have been conditioned to respond to other people with the word “I”. At first, I tried the method out with people I didn’t know very well, because I was a little bit suspicious of this new style of communication. I was amazed at how much more I liked other people when using “you” statements. And I was also surprised at how much more they seemed to like me.
Number Two: Listen to them tell their story
Our conscious brains love stories, just like cats love putting themselves in boxes. (Or at least, that’s what the internet tells me about cats.) If you want to like other people more, it’s probably going to be necessary to place them inside a story where you respect or root for their character in that story.
The only problem is that when you ask people to tell their story, often they will just tell you about their triumphs or all the great things that have happened to them. This mostly causes me to be jealous. You might be different from me or you might not.
What works much better for me is if I can find out about the hardships they have endured, the challenges they have overcome, or the failures they have bounced back from. I mean, think about movies, novels and shows. What are the reasons you like your favorite characters? So to like other people more, I try to get them to tell their story, but especially to tell the stories about what they have survived and overcome.
Once a middle-aged acquaintance of mine was talking with a mutual colleague. His colleague said to me, “Yes, he is a walking history.” It turns out that this middle-aged acquaintance immigrated to the US in the 1970’s after surviving the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. He told the story of how his father was abducted, and how it happened so suddenly that his mother couldn’t even make it home from the fields in time to say goodbye.
He talked about being conscripted into the army at age 10, and “serving” for five years. After the war was over, he traveled with his remaining family on foot through field after field, trying to avoid landmines. He eventually got to Thailand and from there managed to immigrate to the United States.
OK. Who do you like better? The middle-aged acquaintance, or the man who dodged landmines to bring his family to America? See, without a story, we all just reduce other people to stereotypes. And no one really likes a stereotype much.
Number Three: Visualize yourself in their body, looking out at you
OK advice like “Imagine yourself walking a mile in their shoes” is so obvious and corny there might seem to be no need to bring it up. What I’m suggesting is a little more specific, and I want to emphasize something important that is rarely mentioned.
You don’t have to be “right”. This isn’t about being right. (In fact, as a general rule, the less you care about being right about anything the easier it is to like others and the easier it is for them to like you.)
You don’t have to actually understand the other person. You just have to try to understand. It’s the effort that will cause you to like them more.
Also, what I use that is helpful is to try to actually imagine myself in their body, looking out at me. It is, again, a weird method. And I used it at first mostly on people I didn’t really know, because I wasn’t sure what would happen. But it works. It changes my experience of other people and, in some cases, it has dramatically changed my feelings about people.
If you use this method, you may also learn some things about yourself. They may be unpleasant at first, but the learning process will be worth it.
Number Four: Focus on the qualities they have that you know you don’t have
When I say “focus”, what I mean is, tell them. Say, out loud, what you like about them that you know you can’t do or can’t be. I remember once when I told a fellow dancer that she was brilliant at marketing. (I am atrocious at marketing.) Months later, she said to me, “You know what’s funny? Ever since you told me that I’ve gotten a lot better at marketing.”
This is a fantastic side effect of focusing on the qualities other people have that you don’t have. You will actually encourage them to become their best selves.
Once I internalized the truth that other people can read my mind by reading my body language, I realized that the only a true change of heart can change my relationships and my interactions with others. But just wanting to change wasn’t enough. I needed actual methods. The four methods outlined here are the ones that worked the best for me. I hope that some of these techniques will serve you as well as they have served me.